CIFF 2009: What I Did for Love

2009 Chicago International Film Festival

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

Last night, finally free to watch whatever movie I wanted, I popped in Every Little Step, a 2008 documentary about casting the 2006 Broadway remounting of that singular sensation A Chorus Line. The film reminds us of the very hard work it is to be a triple threat on Broadway and then to beat out 3,000 people for one role. The song that exemplifies the dedication this kind of career takes is “What I Did for Love,” in this case, the love of dance.

Now I don’t pretend to come anywhere close to literally bleeding for my art the way the dancers in Every Little Step do, but there is some pain involved in covering a film festival. Mostly my back. Sitting for hours, even on relatively new and comfortable theatre seats, has got my spine all twisted out of shape. And the Visine—can’t live without that. And yes, I did it for love—of movies, of the festival, and of the readers I knew for a fact were out there reading what I had to say. It really is something to be taken seriously by so many people.

There was some grousing about the selections for this year’s festival, perhaps not entirely without reason. The programmers tended to go back to directors who were known quantities—for example, Hans-Christian Schmid and Bernd Lange, whose 2006 entry Requiem was as luminous as this year’s Storm was pedestrian. Many countries were underrepresented—most egregious for me, those of the Balkans and Africa—and France, as usual, was overrepresented, and by too many mediocre films to boot. Times are hard, though, and perhaps too many people couldn’t cough up the entry fee.

Nonetheless, I would have to say that the mission of a film festival was fulfilled at this year’s CIFF perhaps better than in any other year I can remember. An international film festival works best as an incubator for new talent. Those who complain that too many of this year’s big films by big directors were missing fail to understand that fact. Where else but at a film festival can a first-time director get her or his foot in the door? Where else can filmgoers glimpse points of view and new talent not dictated by box office concerns? Where else can we interact with the global community in the universal language of cinema?

I saw only one bonafide stinker this year (Cropsey). Not all of the films were successful, but once again, a higher percentage than not were very well worth seeing and writing about. My favorites were About Elly and A Place of One’s Own, which in keeping with my yearly divergence of interest and opinion from the CIFF jury, failed to be recognized with any kind of award. The jury, like AMPAS always does, rewarded social relevance. Mississippi Damned (USA), reportedly an unsparing look at poverty in the South, took top honors. I was pleased to see Girls on the Wall receive an honorable mention. Backyard also won recognition, which it earned.

Now it’s back to normal. I’ll be resting my brain a bit. Rod, as always, has come through with a backlog of reviews for your reading pleasure. Thanks for coming along with me on this annual journey. You’ve been great travel partners. l

Previous CIFF Coverage

A Single Man: Impressive adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel about a middle-age gay man who contemplates suicide when he cannot stop grieving for his dead lover. (USA)

Backyard: Brutal examination of the ongoing femicide in Ciudad Juárez that posits not a bogeyman, but a prevailing devaluation of women as the cause of the crimes. (Mexico)

A Place of One’s Own: Death and real estate are the obsessions of this buoyant film with interconnected storylines. (Taiwan/Hong Kong)

Girls on the Wall: Affecting, well-made documentary about a musical theatre production in a girls’ prison that helps the inmates confront their demons. (USA)

Chicago Overcoat: An action-packed cops and mobsters story in which an over-the-hill criminal is reluctantly hired for a contract hit and finds himself chased by cops and his own gang. (USA)

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno: Documentary about Clouzot’s stillborn tale of jealousy provides ample clips of optical tests, archival footage, interviews, and what footage of this film exists. (France)

Beyond Ipanema: A fast-paced, funny, highly informative look at the music of Brazil from Carmen Miranda to the present and how it has influenced world music. (Brazil/USA)

About Elly: A L’avventura style mystery in which the disappearance of a woman on holiday leads a group of friends to fracture into lies and recrimination. (Iran)

Who’s Afraid of the Wolf: Imaginative, family-oriented film that relates how a 6-year-old girl copes with a crisis in her family. (Czech Republic)

The Athlete: Ingeniously crafted biopic of the great Olympic marathon champion from Ethiopia Abebe Bikila. (Ethiopia/USA)

The Castle: This sweet comedy shows one man’s fight to save his home from being razed to make way for an airport freight terminal. (Australia)

Looking for Eric: A Manchester postman learns how to turn his life around from his idol, soccer star Eric Cantona, in this low-key comedy from Ken Loach. (UK/France)

A Frozen Flower: A love triangle between a gay king, his lover, and his queen dominates this historical drama set in 13th century Korea. (South Korea)

  • shane spoke:
    21st/10/2009 to 10:43 am

    Next year I’ll have better massage techniques going for me….that may help a bit!!

  • Mykal Banta spoke:
    21st/10/2009 to 5:35 pm

    Marilyn: You have done such great work here promoting CIFF. You make me wish I could live in Chicago for the season just to be a part of it. Supporting this kind of an event, and these kind of films and film-makers, is what film loving is all about! — Mykal

  • Marilyn spoke:
    21st/10/2009 to 5:59 pm

    Thanks, Mykal. You’ve got to love it to do the work, but I feel privileged to be a part of it in the way I am. You should come to Chicago some time and check it out.

  • Peter Nellhaus spoke:
    21st/10/2009 to 8:27 pm

    I’ll be bouncing back to your site to see what films are scheduled for Denver’s film festival that you’ve covered.

  • Mykal Banta spoke:
    21st/10/2009 to 9:27 pm

    Marilyn: I forgot to mention – I listened to you recently via the podcast about The Giant of Marathon. Very enjoyable. With battle sequences directed by Argento! — Mykal

  • Daniel spoke:
    22nd/10/2009 to 11:14 am

    Congrats on this coverage, Marilyn. I liked getting a preview of what will be coming up here over the next year (noted on Storm, which opens a small festival tomorrow night). You know I’m a sucker for social relevance, too, so Mississippi Damned is automatically on my radar.
    One of the things I always appreciate about festivals is seeing “my people” day in and day out. You might not even talk to them, but they are there with you, traveling to the same places as you through the films you’re watching. It’s not an elitist cinephile experience, just one of hungry minds coming together in the same place.
    And I have no known remedy for sore backs. I think my legs are what end up bothering me the most (I’m pretty tall, seats are crammed together). Lots of stretching can help.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/10/2009 to 11:22 am

    Peter – I saw other films that I did not write about. If you have a particular question, I might have an answer. The hubby saw Nymph, which he liked.
    Mykal – Bava, not Argento. I actually have another podcast up at Natsukashi on The Good Earth. I haven’t even had time to listen to it.
    Daniel – I know what you mean by “our people,” though there is a small group of them I see everywhere who are as snobby as all get out. What I like is all the pockets of people from Chicago’s international communities who come out to see a film in their native language. It feels very international at that point.

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